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Friday, March 2, 2018

Exceptional Service?

NOT exceptional service in Dean's Office (staged!)
One of the biggest challenges Residential Life and many student services staff members face is how to address student and parent requests for exceptions. There has recently been a fun, robust discussion about this on the TU Parent Facebook page.

One premise is that for what students pay, the staff should be flexible and make exceptions when possible. Another, competing premise is that students shouldn't be coddled and should follow policies and rules because that is how it works in the real world. Many of my colleagues at Trinity and other campuses subscribe to the latter philosophy.

The bigger issue, for me, is often about weighing flexibility against consistency. What you do for one, you should be prepared to do for another. Many would say that if you have processes and policies in place, people will only follow them if you do. In considering exceptions, then, one has to decide which issues can have wiggle room and which ones can't.

Confounding all of this is the nature of the educational experience less as a commodity and more as a partnership.

I have evolved on all of this over the years. While generally it is my nature to want to be helpful and go the extra mile for students and parents, I haven't always been that way. Years ago an international student wanted to get into the closed residence halls over the break to get some homework out of his room. Maybe it was a passport. In any event I was dead set against it until a VP from another area compelled me to be flexible. It was frustrating, but he was right. While I saw it as philosophical and about learning, the student just needed a solid.

Likewise, we used to struggle with getting students to pay their annual housing deposits. If they didn't do so, they couldn't reserve their rooms. We sent letters, put out posters, placed ads in the paper, held meetings and more. Yet year after year 35% of our students would show up to the room reservation process without a deposit on file. This was back when everything was cash or check I should add. Finally, we changed the process. That made everyone's lives easier and showed that sometimes the problem isn't the end user, but the process.

Dean Tuttle Rule #1
Pick your battles.

I have learned from experience that there are a couple areas where it doesn't pay to make exceptions: the residency requirement and the meal plan requirement. One year someone was allowed to live off-campus to be a caretaker for a grandparent locally. The next year we heard from ten students with ailing grandparents in San Antonio. Rarely do we make exceptions in these areas and when we do we almost always regret doing so. People watch and they throw exceptions back at us. Our students and parents demand consistency. The person who doesn't get the exception cries foul if the policy isn't being applied evenly. Unwittingly, they are reinforcing to us to NOT make any exceptions. Which makes it hard, because the same person wanting an exception pleads for, and expects mercy. Housing and dining, in my sphere, are areas where we generally have to be exceptionally tight. It is a shame, because when students come here they aren't really thinking about these requirements. After one or two years it becomes clear to many that they are not built for residential living. There are a handful of people we also think are better suited to not live on campus. 

Dean Tuttle Rule #2
People rarely learn when they are mad. They learn more from acts of kindness. 

When I was an RA eons ago I had to bring my receipts to the University Bursar up at Bascom Hall at UW-Madison. Bookkeeping wasn't my strength. This guy could have nailed me. But he didn't. He helped me with the best estimates and let me be on my way. I remember this some 30 years later and can re-count other such situations in my life. This is why I am oddly, as a Dean, a spirit of the law versus letter of the law person.

We see this in student conduct cases all the time. It's one of the reasons we rarely issue community service sanctions. Time is a great currency for students. If we impose on that they will clean up the park all the while thinking how much they hate it here. Is that the lesson we want them to learn?

Dean Tuttle Rule #3
Never forget that people pay a lot of money here.

True, we are generous with aid and heavily discount. True, that when I started here in 1987 students used to say, in a demanding way, "I pay $12,000 a year to go here!" It drives me crazy when someone confuses their tuition bill with their room or dining bill (which are a lot less). But the point is the same. The Trinity experience is about excellence and we sell that we offer a customized, fully attentive, hands-on experience.

Dean Tuttle Rule #4
Except in the classroom, students are customers, even if they are not.

So here is the set-up: A student pays to come here and in exchange, may get a poor grade, may be cut from a team, might have a bad roommate, could not get the RA job or lose an election, and might be passed over for an award. This is great preparation for life after college. For some, these lessons are being learned for the first time.

So elsewhere, students expect exceptional service though in other areas. They want front-line administrators to be kind. They want to be heard. They want good food, clean facilities, and unusually close and available parking spaces. This is where we can balance their disappointments.

In summary, the issue that sparked a somewhat hilarious debate with parents was whether or not someone who misplaced their ID card should have been allowed into Mabee to eat. Technically, such a student needs to follow the policy, everyone else does. And it's in place for a reason. The student would learn in the future to be more careful about keeping track of her card. And finally, we shouldn't coddle students anymore than we already do (though many have been quite coddled before arriving here).

On the other side, given that students are busy and on the fly, they will sometimes misplace an ID. They are probably not going to use all of their meal swipes anyways. They could simply benefit by someone's kindness and flexibility. And they may decide to pay it forward to someone else in the future. What they will learn, hopefully, is to treat others the way they want to be treated. This is where I land most of the time.

There is no wrong or right here. Just different approaches and they are probably more along a continuum than right or wrong. But what do you think, readers? Take the poll, upper right and weigh in.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

One day.

Wanda Olson receives the McKinley Award from President Danny Anderson.
The day started early, with an 8 a.m. committee meeting to discuss student nominees for the annual Student Leadership Awards. Those prized honors are among other bestowed upon students during Spring Family Showcase Weekend. Breakfast tacos courtesy of Jamie Thompson.

One never knows what a day will hold in the work I do. Generally there are lots of meetings, lots of emails that sit unanswered, fires to put out, and reports or presentations to produce. It's as rote as any job. But within that sometimes there are moments that are moving, challenging, and gratifying. These are the things that make my work fulfilling.

My staff knows I live by a couple axioms, many which played out on this day:
- Deal with things that are active, reactive and proactive, with the latter being the hardest to make time for.
- Embrace that we deal with gravity, levity, and absurdity.
- Be mission-centered and student-centered, not self centered.

On this particular morning we discussed which students would receive awards for either their breadth of accomplishments, or the depth of their work. Some students are superstars across multiple areas, including academics and also successes in leadership and co-curricular experiences. It's humbling to review their accomplishments, especially knowing some of the behind-the-scenes stories of these young adults.

When we were finished, and looked at the winners, we felt awesome. We looked at the diversity of the winners and the variety of their experiences. I think we all felt that this group represented all that is good about Trinity University.

The Student Success Team meets every week as we did on this day. This group discusses students who are struggling or who we are concerned about. This may make some uneasy, but virtually every campus does this. Our set-up barely preceded the Virginia Tech tragedy, but that was the impetus for many behavioral assessment teams nationally to communicate better in an effort to connect the dots about students needing support or of concern. About 15-18 staff members from various departments present student issues, look for connections, and determine who will lead in helping the student. Whether self-inflicted, inherited, or delivered by fate, some of our students face incredible challenges academically, emotionally, and socially. This group makes me proud because they work to support our students in ways impossible to enumerate. We meet for 30 minutes and we cover a lot of ground.

Next came a meeting with several other administrators to discuss how we process new student information related to housing assignments, special interest residence halls, advising, and First Year Experience assignments. Nothing special there. Except... Wanda Olson, from Residential Life, was in the meeting with us. This is Wanda's last week or so here as she readies to retire after 17 years at Trinity. The ruse was to hold her up until an 11 a.m. surprise presentation of the University McKinley Award for distinguished service. So, we dragged the meeting on until it was time for Wanda to head to Northrup fourth floor where she thought she was presenting an award to someone else.

What a pleasure to see Mrs. Olson finally receive her due after years and years of selfless service to the campus. She is a master deflector of attention, a hard-working grinder in the office, a mentor, and the most loyal and supportive employee I have ever had. Wanda volunteered to step back to the Associate Director role from the Director position a couple of years ago to pave the way for the now-departed Melissa Flowers to take over as Director. I have been to a lot of these presentations before, but none have ever been so joyous and celebratory. People here love Wanda Olson and were thrilled for her. She was in shock as she entered the room and as Bruce Bravo described her to her friends and colleagues and as President Anderson presented the award. Surprise successfully accomplished.

Next came a meeting with Jamie Thompson, again, and some Facilities staff to discuss the pending Coates Center renovation. This renovation will be officially announced soon and work will start over spring break. Prepare for disruption. The bookstore will move to the area near the Commons, Student Involvement will take their spot, and they will connect (by stairs) to the Center for Experiential Learning and Career Success upstairs. This will be a game-changer for us. In truth, it is a band-aid until a more complete renovation is done, possibly a decade or more down the road. Counseling Services will move to the west wing, currently occupied by Student Involvement.

Half a day to go.

The Student Life mission is to serve, support and challenge. Following a routine meeting with Admissions, I would next meet with a student. The conversation was contentious as we discussed a pending conduct hearing. Sometimes students are timid, worried, and respectful. Other times, they are not. This meeting was the latter. Regret. That happens when I take the bait, or let my emotions get the best of me. The meeting went poorly and I told the student when we were done with his case we will try to meet and hit reset moving forward. We will see if I get a chance. Our jobs at times require us to shed the service and support functions and challenge students as they challenge us. These difficult conversations and moments are extremely important. We engage students in ways that are not always comfortable, but hopefully, highly educational.

The last two hours of the day would be spent in student commencement speaker auditions. Each graduation a student speaker speaks at graduation on behalf of and to the graduating class. Over two days we would hear more than a dozen fully formed speeches. They were nostalgic, instructive, heartfelt, gracious, clever, and full of love. While we can only choose one we showcase the others the Thursday before graduation so the students can still present to friends and family before the annual Twilight at Trinity senior banquet. The committee LOVED these speeches.

What a way to bookend the day: learning about our award nominees and winners and then hearing seniors rave about their school, their friends, and their faculty and staff mentors. It is easy to feel intense pride in our students as they are absolutely exceptional.

By the end of the "official" day my heart was racing. My head was spinning. I would have to go to Starbucks to complete some past due work: to review the Resident Assistant applications following the previous week interviews. More shock and awe at the stories of our students and how they came to Trinity and how they hope to serve others. 

Eventually, finding my way home, I would toss and turn as sleep proved elusive. Pride, regret, worry, appreciation, and a little caffeine... I earned my wakefulness. It wasn't the best day and wasn't the worst day. It wasn't a typical day either.  But it was a memorable one.

We all seek meaning in our work and our lives. While it may be elusive many days, every once in awhile we get that feeling, that maybe we do matter, and are part of something bigger than ourselves. Maybe it is lasting, and maybe it's fleeting. But when it happens, what a feeling. Even if it is just for one day.    

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Rick Roberts 1960-2018

At HOF induction 2012 (courtesy W. Terrell)
My close friend and former Trinity employee Rick Roberts, who worked in fundraising, passed away January 29 from complications resulting from his two-year battle with cancer. In November when he seemed to come out of the woods I lamented to him that I had a half-written blog post about him that was now useless. He laughed and said, "Well, save it. I want you to do my eulogy." I told him I would love to, thinking it wouldn't be this soon. He still gets a blog post. He was the kind of friend that would VOLUNTARILY read my blog without prompting. Many, many friends and family gathered at his service at Texas Lutheran earlier this month. For the record, here are my remarks at that occasion, minus when I was losing it of course:



February 6, 2018 – Rick Roberts Memorial Service Remarks
My name is David Tuttle and I have been friends with Rick for the past 24 years. I am humbled that I have the opportunity to say a few words to you today. I think Dacia is worried that I will talk too long. Mostly because she sent me a text that said “don’t talk too long.” Nah, not really. But do get comfortable. Rick is going to get his due.

I love that today is Rick’s birthday though I am not a huge “birthday” guy. Rick hated it when I would forget his birthday. Hated it. When he was at Trinity by day’s end he would call me and say something like, “Hey, did you want to tell me happy birthday, I’m leaving soon…” I always dreaded forgetting his birthday. Well, I will never forget now.

If he were here, Rick would be thrilled and probably a little uncomfortable with this crowd. After greeting you, despite this being his memorial service, we all know he would quickly turn the conversation to you. Asking about how you are doing. Right? Then he’d ask you for money!

Thank you all for being here. I want to especially thank and acknowledge some people on his behalf.

First, Welcome to all of the people from Trinity University, who just loved Rick so much. He left, but never left us behind.

I want to thank the Texas Lutheran community who quickly learned what we knew about Rick and who embraced him, and who he embraced, after TLU President Stuart Dorsey stole him from us at Trinity. I shake my fist at you Dr. Dorsey.

I want everyone here to know what a wonderful president and man Stuart Dorsey is. His unwavering support for Rick in so many dimensions reflects his kindness, generosity, leadership, and friendship. Rick repeatedly told me how much this meant to him and was stunned at how much Dr. Dorsey supported him and Dacia the last couple of years. I want to thank Debbie Cottrell, Kristi Quiros, and other members of the cabinet for their friendship and support of Rick. He loved all of you.

Last night there was an informal celebration of Rick’s life with his extended family and many of his close friends from Seguin and TLU. Rick’s colleague Sam Ehrlich gave a wonderful eloquent and emotional talk about Rick and what he meant to his team. (You need to share that Sam.) It made me realize that while Rick was loved at Trinity, he is beloved here at TLU. I guess we got to rent him whereas TLU got to own him. What a testament to Rick that he had such an impact professionally and he did it in a very personal way.

I want to acknowledge the caregivers from the hospital for their wonderful treatment they provided Rick. I would jokingly say to them “I want the best treatment for my friend here,” as though I had any authority. But they were giving it anyways. He touched them like he did all of us. His incredible spirit and wit inspired them and he was their best and favorite patient.

I want to welcome Rick’s family, many whom have traveled here from New Mexico. I got to meet many last night including siblings, in-laws, nieces and nephews. What wonderful caring, and expressive people. Being around Rick’s friends and family really helps you see why he was such a quality guy. He was surrounded by awesome people.

I want to acknowledge my wife Donna and my kids. When Rick took me on as a friend it was truly a family affair and the connections between all of us, especially the four of us have been so meaningful and we are all hurting.

I want to thank my friend Raphael Moffett for teaching me to say I love you to male friends. I was able to say this to Rick, though I still have to add the word “man” at the end. But I was able to tell him how I felt during this past year, thanks to you Moff.

To Elizabeth and EJ, I just want to tell you how proud your dad was of you and how much he loved you and Mandy and Arthur. His life revolved around you. You probably don’t see it this way, but you gave your dad a tremendous gift. Watching him grow and change because of you has been so gratifying. Through you he had to reconsider some of his viewpoints. He was always a good Christian. But you opened his eyes and heart in ways he never saw coming. You turned a good Christian into a true Christian.

Finally, I don’t know what to say about Dacia. She accompanied Rick through his illness with selflessness, love, and support. I can’t sit in the waiting room at the Med Clinic with my family for 30 minutes before I’m like “uh, I’m hungry, I’m missing the game… what’s this going to cost.” Rick turned all matters of his illness over to Dacia. She was there as his researcher and advocate, hour by hour, day by day, week by week, and month by month. She drove a lot. She never wavered. Ever. All of us marvel at you Dacia and what you did.


My wife reminded me, though, that your relationship shouldn’t be defined by the last two years. It would be like judging Sean Elliott’s career on the Memorial Day Miracle shot. (That’s my analogy, not my wife’s.) But Rick and Dacia were married for 38 years, which is amazing. They had two kids together, managed other health issues, grieved the loss of family members together, shared several homes, traveled regularly to New Mexico and Colorado after moving to Texas, and experienced all of the joy and challenges of a sustained relationship. Dacia, you meant everything to Rick, and he loved you with everything he had. You were a great wife and he was lucky to have you.  For you, Dacia, to lose him, now, is just so hard.  We all love you.

I met Rick when I came back to Trinity in 1994. Our friendship evolved from the basketball court, to running, and to connecting outside of work. We ran together after the attacks on 911 and shortly thereafter we started training for half and full marathons. When you run with someone that much you get really close. We shared everything about our work, our families, about how lucky our wives were to have us and about how right we were.

We shared a common love for the Spurs, as many of us do. We were at game two of the Minnesota series in 1999, together when we lost. We were mad. We were at the Laker game later that year when the Lakers had a foul to give but instead let Tim Duncan hit the game winner. We celebrated. We probably dissected hundreds of Spurs game on our runs together. The last time I saw Rick it was at the rehab hospital where we got to watch one last game together.

When I was the subject of a roast at Trinity it was Rick who landed the best blows. And when he left Trinity, I was able to talk about him at his farewell reception. And then there’s this. Outside my family, my friendship with Rick has been the most significant relationship of my adult life. I was so lucky to have a best friend with the same interests, the same sense of humor, and the same values. We knew one another’s weaknesses and flaws as well, but didn’t care. Our friendship was unconditional and easy.

I learned last night, that I probably can’t tell you anything you probably didn’t know or haven’t felt. Rick was consistent and treated everyone the same. But here are some things that need to be read into the record.

Rick had a tremendous sense of humor. Rick always reminded me of one of his favorite comedians, Jerry Seinfeld. His keen observations, his funny comebacks, his self-deprecation... He would see humor in most everything and he would retell stories of his missteps in ways that would have you rolling. Even to the end, he was always cracking jokes with the hospital staff.

Rick was the nicest guy in the world. I often felt like I was George to his Jerry. Whenever I was slighted at work or elsewhere, as I often am, Rick was an incredible sounding board. He had a way of listening, not over-reacting, and making me feel good about myself and helped me feel supported. Even at the hospital, he treated the staff with incredible respect and kindness. He could work a room because he wanted to meet people and to learn about them and support them too, but he never really worked people. It was always genuine. When you were with Rick you felt important and that you mattered.

Rick was extremely generous. He was in the perfect job. He got appropriately frustrated when I would tell people to watch their wallets when Rick approached. That’s because he never saw himself as someone who would separate people from their money. He was a steward of people’s resources as he helped them help others.

Now Rick would see this next bit as the most important part of my talk, so humor us. He was a great basketball player, even at his age, and I gotta break down his game for you!

Inducted into the Trinity Noon Ball Hall of Fame in 2012 (yes, that is a real thing), he was always one of the best players out there. He played how he lived his life. He worked hard, had great skill, expected excellence, and was a great teammate and sport. I hated guarding him because he always moved without the ball and knew how to set and use screens. He was a tenacious defender. He was probably the best and most consistent three-point shooter we had on the court. And he was often the best passer. He was the king of the touch pass. That was Rick, he shared the ball like he shared everything else.

Rick and Trich: with bald buddy Kellyn, July 4, 2017
Rick was a man of great faith. When we had Kellyn in 2002 we knew we wanted Rick and Dacia to be the godparents, despite them not being Catholic. When I went and did the paperwork, the Deacon said we couldn’t use them. They weren’t Catholic. They were the most Christian couple we knew, so I went to another church, Our Lady of Grace. This time I knew the question would come up so I was better prepared. I figured it was bad form to lie to a priest, so let’s just say I was evasive when the late Monsignor Walsh asked me about Kellyn’s sponsors. 

I think he knew, but he got it, so he didn’t press the issue. He waved them through. Every year thereafter, without fail, Rick and Dacia would come over with breakfast to celebrate Kellyn’s baptism date. They were always active in their faith communities and Rick was guided by his faith until the end.

Finally, I had no idea how resilient Rick was until his illness. I am not a fan of when people say someone was strong, or they fought hard. I think people deal with adversity the way they deal with it. No weak or strong. They simply cope the best they can. But I learned so much from Rick. I always assumed people fought illnesses from a place of fear. That’s how I would do it.

But Rick always fought from a place of hope, strength, and his eternal positive attitude. I should have figured. When we would play basketball and I would take a hard foul I would inevitably let out this kind of involuntary yelp. And Rick would just shake his head. “You okay there?” he would say with his sheepish grin. He was tougher. For crying out loud, he just learned this fall that he had a heart defect his whole life.

When I would turn the ball over, as I am prone to do, and then stop to pout, Rick would always admonish me to get back on defense. He would never give up. He was fearless and determined.

I tried to engage Rick about how he was feeling, emotionally, these past two years. He wouldn’t bite. Dacia recounted to us last week that Rick told her that it was odd that I asked him if he was afraid to die. She reminded him that, well, he did have stage 12 cancer. But he said he that while he didn’t want to die, he wasn’t afraid.

Rick looked ahead, never skipping steps, and never losing faith. He was focused fully on the next thing and not one step beyond. When Rick told me he had cancer, it was over coffee at Starbucks. “So, I need to tell you something…” he started. He was almost sheepish about it. Almost embarrassed. It was like he was going to tell me that he dented my car. This illness was never bigger than him. Setback after setback and obstacle after obstacle were placed in his way. Despite pain and extreme discomfort Rick never complained. Dacia says that during his rehab, when they said do five reps Rick would say let’s do ten. When they would say ten minutes he would say 20.

Even when I saw this coming I never really expected it. Like Rick, I never really wanted to look up. And today, I do look up, and I see all of you. Rick was my best friend. You naturally see people mostly in the context of how you know them. I was speechless last night and a little disoriented as I was reminded that Rick was much more than my friend. Husband, dad, brother, son, co-worker, friend, noon-baller, donor. He belonged to everyone in much the same way. Without doubt, Rick made an incredibly positive impact on everyone who knew him. Even now. Ironically, on this day, he is the gift-giver and always has been. I love you Rick. We all love you. Happy birthday.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Embracing Media Interviews

Recently a colleague asked me for pointers on how to talk to the Trinitonian. It's a great question and hints at the trepidation some have when faced with being the subject of an interview. People want to show they are smart, reasoned, and caring. And they want to be quoted accurately. I have been doing interviews for decades. Still, I always check the Trinitonian for damage control before diving in more fully. I check the opinion pieces and then the stories I am a part of. It's human nature. Then I enjoy a good stress-free read.

I am a huge fan and supporter of the Trinitonian. This isn't to say that sometimes I don't disagree with them and their opinions. On the whole, though, the paper has a sustained record of excellence. That said, here are some tips for my colleagues when the spotlight turns toward them:

1. You should say "yes" to being interviewed
The best way to manage the flow of accurate information is to offer it. Avoiding interviews makes people think there is something to hide. Even worse, is saying "no comment." It is a stiff-arm to legitimate queries and makes reporters even more suspicious. Often you can help reporters by referring them to additional/different/better sources if they are requesting you to comment on something out of your wheel house.

2. Be accessible
The students are very busy and juggling deadlines. They will appreciate it, and remember, if you take calls outside of normal hours or send some quick email responses to follow-up questions. It may behoove you as well in the long run.

3. You don't have to answer the questions just because they are asked
You need to be honest, but aren't under oath and aren't required to answer things that are off limits. Generally this happens with private and confidential information, usually about students and employees. I like to talk in generalities when this happens: "Well, usually staff members are discouraged from coming to work high..." or "What a lot of campuses face is..."

4. The paper is a valuable conduit of real news
Transparency, communication, and the exchange of information are critical to the media and our paper is no different. Being on the hot seat can be difficult, but explaining one's self and one's decisions is important. When I visit other campuses I pick up their papers to compare them to ours. None match the content, the layout, and the pizzazz of our campus paper.

5. It is all about student learning
Once you see the value (#3), the next step is understanding that not only is the Trinitonian a service, but it is an educational vehicle for students. Nearly everything we do here is about student learning. Reporters are sometimes nervous to talk to adults who have been here awhile and can be guarded at best and blustery at worst. Believe me, it is tough when a reporter makes mistakes at the expense of your reputation and career. Get over it though.

6. Keep perspective
It is easy to think that what we do is soooo important. Sometimes it is. But we are a small campus in South Central Texas and mostly nobody else cares. Polar ice caps are melting, the rich are getting richer, and world leaders with WMDs are assigning nicknames to one another. We are not "all-that."

7. Your quotes are less interesting than you think
It took me a while to figure this out. Sometimes when I read my quotes I am like "oh no, this is totally out of context." That used to drive me crazy. Then I realized that usually people glance through stories, get the drift, and then check their iPhones. The quote you obsess over is probably of very little consequence. The truth is, that out of a twenty-minute interview you will probably have two or three quotes - tops. And reporters will just be using you, really, to weave their narrative.

8. Let reporters record your interview
Everyone wins. My fear used to be that I would be misquoted. Now I fear I will be quoted accurately. "Did I really say that?"

9. Try to be interesting
I try to drop in an outlandish nugget in every interview. I learned this from my mentor Dr. Coleen Grissom. (This was never a strategy for her, she just did it because she was that good.) Once you realize you aren't Such a big deal (see #6), then you can have fun. I try to drop a money quote in every interview. Unfortunately, few get published, either out of the reporter's respect for my reputation, or because they didn't think I was as amusing as I did.
10. You can go off the record
All you have to do is say, "Can I go off the record?" Sometimes this is important when a reporter is sniffing around an angle that isn't accurate. And sometimes you are trapped in terms of what you can say for print. You still can't divulge private information, but you can say things like, "We are going to announce this change in a week, so be patient..." Some stories are non-stories and you can derail them by being honest. And it makes you feel really important to lean in, look side-to-side, and say, "Off the record..." But that's just between us.

11. You can't proofread the story
Journalists don't want you to even ask. They are loathe to cede control of their material, their story, and their angle to one of the sources. You usually can't talk them out of using your quotes once you have spilled the beans. But, our students generally aren't out to get us. If you build rapport and then later get nervous about what you said, a reporter might be open to reading back your quotes to you to give you peace of mind.

12. Someone will always disagree with you
The reporters are taught to cite multiple sources. Sometime you are a primary source or a secondary source. You will probably know which when you know the topic. The most maddening thing is there will always be a student quote that makes you seem like you know nothing: "Free tuition for everyone is fine, but really, if I can't find a place to park I will never give money to Trinity." This is done in the name of balance. Get used to it.

13. Let it go...
From time-to-time employees will write back for clarification - often on minor points - and occasionally without much grace. The more you keep a story going the more life it has. Don't feed the fire.

14. Finally, it is important to understand the role of the advisor.
Katharine Martin does a great job training the students and processing the issues they grapple with. And, she regularly reviews their work after it is published. But, she doesn't review content in advance unless the students are seeking her help. This is critical so the press, even at a small private school, is seen as independent and free from censorship. That is what creates an authentic and valuable learning experience, and one we can share in by being competent and interesting interview subjects.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Speaking of... Race


Recently I sponsored an open campus discussion about race. More specifically, it was about Colin Kaepernick, race, the national anthem, and sports. It is an interesting and fascinating topic. Unfortunately, any discussion about this means we are not discussing the original issues: police brutality, disparities in the legal system, and inequitable social structures in education, housing, and schools.

Case in point, Malcolm Jenkins of the Philadelphia Eagles is focusing his energy on bail reform. Who knew? Well, not me. It is a difficult and gritty topic. Many of these topics are. And they aren't really accessible to many of us. But we have all likely been to sporting events and absentmindedly stood up during the presentation of the national anthem. It is more habit than tradition.

That said (and acknowledged), the discussion, with heavy support and promotion from the Black Student Union had promise. Indeed, we had wonderful discussions throughout the event. Using continuum exercises ("if you feel this way go to the left, if you feel this way go to the right, or somewhere in-between"). While there was some nuanced disagreement, many at the event felt similarly. But we acknowledged early that we were an "echo chamber" of opinions, mostly agreeing to agree.

We used some of the wonderful Shannon Sharpe piece as a springboard to discussion. It is certainly worth a watch at just under ten minutes. In it, he calls out NFL owners for only paying attention when President Trump attacked their brand. Another video that has gone viral, but that we didn't discuss, is an opinion piece by Dale Hansen. Additionally, people in the discussion cited some of the history of this issue, which is not really a new one.

While free speech and the first amendment have been discussed as key issues with the protests, they really aren't. As a private league, the NFL and its privately owned teams, can set their rules for decorum. This of course clashes with the notion that anyone has a right stifle another's voice. The first amendment is very specific to government not being able to squelch dissent. In the NFL there are issues related to collective bargaining and rules, not really free speech. In our discussion we pondered what would happen if a Trinity football player would take a knee. What if a coach did? Or a dean? What many athletes have done is to show unity with their teammates by locking arms. This is a way to express their ideas: We stand with you, but we aren't taking a knee...

Amid the many excellent commentaries on the topic is another excellent piece is from former NFL player Marvin Washington. In it, he articulates that the issue isn't about patriotism, but is a "distress signal." And this really encapsulated our discussion well. Why do we begin sporting events with the national anthem and not say plays or films in the theater? If it is supposed to be unifying as some might contend, it isn't, as many feel shut out by the promise of the American dream because of institutionalized and accepted racism.

Digging deeper, and most interesting, was the discussion about "sticking to sports" and what that means. On the surface it seems logical: musicians, movie stars, and athletes should entertain us, but not share their political, religious, and social beliefs. Never mind that we crave personal information on our celebrities. And no one complained when J.J. Watt used his platform for hurricane relief. In my favorite piece on this the author states that what people are really saying is "I disagree with you, so shut up." My favorite songwriter, Jackson Browne, regularly hears from critics about his political music as not being as personal as his romantic ballads. He defends this, stating that nothing is more personal than politics. (I totally agree, but his music ballads really are better artistically!)

Last year I wrote a piece about our conservative students and how they have added to the dialog on campus. Some pushed back because they disagree with those students and aren't thrilled with some of their tactics. True, they sometimes seem to see discussion as sport, to be won or lost, rather than as a means to better understanding. And sometimes they don't play at all, or don't play nice when they do. But we could have used them in this discussion. Because without them to have a back-and-forth participants weren't stretched, or pressed, or challenged.

Getting students from the middle to engage is probably the biggest challenge. Many, I would guess, support social justice, the flag, the military, and the song. But without them at the table, the discussions don't go very deep. These talks then, are satisfying but, not rewarding.

As I think about the next discussion, I consider topics that will bring people out, that will engage them in discussion, that will allow for real learning and understanding. (I would love to hear comments here for ideas.) But one thing I know, this isn't the time for anyone to take a knee. As Malcolm Jenkins knows, it's more complicated than that.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Post #300: Shut that guy up!

Me. So small.
In 2014 I wrote a post about My Life as a Blogger. In it, I very humbly highlighted what I thought were my Greatest Hits of blog posts.

So yes, there is of course some ego involved here. But more so, I just think my profession, and my University, serve up excellent material to write about. So here I am, 50 posts and three years later, taking a moment to look back at some of this material. Of course many of the posts are ones I want back. Maybe they aren't really spot on or not in-depth enough, but not every album has all hit songs. Except of course for Greatest Hits records. I enjoyed writing number 300, because it was about family, Trinity, and Higher Education. I know these topics well.

Over the last five years I have grown in terms of my understanding and empathy related to social justice issues, especially related to race. (This bathroom post took a lot of research but I grew from writing it.) I have many on this campus to thank for this, and two former colleagues in particular: Felicia Lee and Raphael Moffett. Of course there are always risks writing about race. I know some people feel that I can't be an effective spokesperson or ally because I am a white man. I simply have to accept that, because it's true. The alternative is to not take risks and stand silently, so I'll take my chances. I have more to say on this topic, so stay tuned in the future.

Of course in today's era, we have had to be very thoughtful and deliberative when our values for freedom of speech and providing a safe campus environment collide. Some of our students have pushed the envelope on this topic and they have kept us on our toes. I got a little push back on this post about our conservative students, with some (who don't know me well at all) thinking I lean more right than left. At the end of the day, I think the headline holds true.

In my work I deal with alcohol, a lot. Of course I have my personal story that I have become more comfortable sharing. I shared it again when Sarah Hepola came to campus. I wanted her to like me better than she did, by the way. But I am very committed to Trinity University having a harm-reduction model and I think we have put our money where our mouth is with the national award winning Optimal Buzz and B'Low Optimal programs.

And topically, I see now that I have done several posts about sexual assault, including two back-to-back. This is a serious campus issue and we work at serving our students with compassion, fairness, and transparency all the time.

There have been a couple posts that have stood up well over time, no matter how brief. I outlined how students can invest in their own experiences and show school spirit - challenging them to be more active than inert. My post on marijuana made the top ten. It was a hit.

But my favorite posts are not the ones about policy or issues. I love to write about people. Unfortunately, some of these posts are about tragedy. I am still haunted by the loss of our young student Corey Byrnes in a car accident a couple years ago. It prompted me to re-visit a fatal crash in 1987, with my own journey as a back drop. That was one of the most difficult, natural, and real posts I have ever written. So was the one on the passing of Dr. Mike Kearl. His death stirred something in me and the campus community. The post about Tiger football and Roy Hampton was rattling around in me for awhile. The TCU comeback laid it all out and it nearly wrote itself.

Of course, from tragedy we find stories of absolute inspiration. I have started writing posts for the holidays and they have features dome incredible stories. The first was about Jennifer Reese and her mom and it still gives me chills. And the story about Dr. Roberts and how he came to Trinity still inspires me.The fantastic attitude and light that is my former colleague Tony Salinas simply amazes.

Dr. Coleen Grissom used to talk about the absurdity we deal with in Student Affairs. I have used it as a mantra in talking about gravity, levity, and absurdity. I wrote about the gravity plenty. But there were a couple of posts that I still delight in for their silliness. When I ran into Dr. Aaron Delwiche at HEB he was in the right place at the right time as I was developing a post about Michael Buble. He was a great sport and the picture of us is perfect. And I enjoyed the post about Ben Gomez because of who he is, but mostly because it took four years to assemble.

Here's hoping I have a chance to write 50 more posts in the years ahead. I could do with a little less tragedy and a bit more joy. To that end, I will conclude with a link to a post about my own college experience and its timelessness.

Thanks for reading.