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Friday, February 27, 2009

Brazilian Fun

One of the highlights - for me - at the annual Directors appreciation dinner at the President's home on February 25 was an impromptu neck rub (shown right) from Mrs. Brazil as she mingled from table-to-table. She and the President were gracious hosts and it is always nice to be appreciated.

One thing our students may not know is that Trinity is a great workplace. The college experience, while critical to building one's foundation, is, after all, fleeting. After four years graduates often become poor working stiffs just like the rest of us.

At the dinner, I had the pleasure of sitting with colleagues Chris Ellertson, Felicia Lee, Becky Spurlock, Barbara Ras, and Diane Graves. The raucous conversation included idle gossip, real faux jewelry, the comparative ages of dinner companions, and, of course, Netflix.

(Incidentally, I do routinely offer to share my own Netflix list through the electronic "friend" function. Through this function your friends can view films you have rated and see what is in your queue. I am quite proud of my queue and thus hope my dinner mates will each take me up on the offer to be my Netflix friends.

As a side note, I put nearly all new films in my queue and have a careful three-step vetting process they must pass before making it to my final list of films I will actually rent. I am happy to detail this process should I receive inquiries.) End parentheses.

This week I also had the pleasure of working with Inessa -- from Russia -- in the International Programs Office. Leaving a medical facility where we visited a student she managed to have a hospital employee validate our parking ticket, which saved us like around a dollar.

(Similarly, I have a trick at Starbucks that I shared with her -- and will share here to avoid paying for refills. Here's how it works: After finishing my tall decaf coffee, I amble up to the counter and ask for a half cup refill. As I do this I fumble through my Trinity ID pouch for money (while looking pathetic) as the clerk says "don't worry about it, it's just half a cup." I swear, this works every time and I have saved probably $15 employing this tactic. And I don't even like Starbucks coffee.) End parentheses.

There are innumerable examples of how the personal and professional lives of employees intersect which makes this is an excellent environment for employees. Not only are there the silly stories, there are the serious discussions, the important decisions, and the stewardship of the lives of the students entrusted to us.

The same vibe that students feel when they visit as prospective students is the same one job candidates feel. Those feelings emanate from the faculty and staff whose members are not just happy here, but committed to the lives of our students. Without a sense of mission or appreciation, employees would merely work here. But those connections and the accomnpanying sense of commitment are woven into a fabric that move this place forward one day and one relationship at a time. That's what makes a job a calling and a University a home. It is all connected.

Friday, February 13, 2009


While I applaud the generally fair and balanced article on the Sophomore College in the February 13 Trinitonian, it seems that the general resistance to the Sophomore College initiative is based on some misperceptions as well as reluctance to change, rather than on the substance of the program.

The consistent criticism of the Sophomore College initiative centers on these areas: first, students should have choice, and second, the administration (Residential Life, specifically) ignores student opinion. Of course it was long-term student opinion that led to Sophomore College.

In 2006 one task force determined that there was a lack of community and attention given to students on campus after the first year. Indeed, according to annual surveys, student satisfaction consistently decreased for students the longer they lived on campus. Initiatives such as the Community Initiatives program were developed to address issues of self-governance and community-building. Further data collection revealed that the same issues of dissatisfaction in the upperclass halls persisted.

The primary issue has been that upperclass students had first choice in room selection, with sophomores getting the left-overs. In these residence halls there was little to no interaction between sophomores and the busy juniors and seniors.

The 2006 task force studied these issues again and found that the Community Initiative program was not sufficient in addressing student concerns about the upperclass residence halls. That task force felt that a broad-based change was needed to address issues that all sophomores face. Programs that simply allow students to opt in weren't attractive because they would be limited in scope and would not address the student issues that were persisting regarding the upperclass experience. All of the members of the task force signed off on the final report and that year's ASR supported the recommendations. Indeed, to reinforce the recommendations ASR changed the way senators are elected so they can represent students by class as recommended by the 2006 Task Force.

Thoughtful student opinion was sought through two task forces and a number of surveys. This is why the Residential Life Office is committed to the long-term Sophomore College program. The Sophomore College is one of several recommendations, in fact, to improve the upperclass experience. Other recommendations included adding a welcome week for returning students, developing class unity, and addressing important student topics through programming.

This year staff members Katie Storey and Cally Chenault have worked hard to implement this program. They have been under pressure to deliver in the face of students who have approached the Sophomore College with skepticism. Some efforts and approaches have succeeded and some are evolving. The staff is committed to seeing this program through until it can be fully assessed. To truly evaluate the program it needs time and we need distance from the resistance that continues to recycle itself from some of the same people who have never been supportive of the program.

I have begun hearing many more positive anecdotal reports from students in the Sophomore College. The program is intended to bolster student success, to improve retention, and address the developmental, social, and academic needs of students. Trinity's program is innovative and distinctive and deserves a chance. Who could argue with that?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Beta Iota Delta - BID Day 2009

I have not been a huge fan of Greek life on campus. As the Dean, I have had to deal with fall-out from Greeks organizations: a call from an 80-year-old neighbor who has to sleep in his garage because the fraternity neighbors routinely held loud parties; the hazing cases in which the victims were ostracized and ridiculed; the sexual assaults (yes, I know they are not always fraternity-related); and even the limits of brotherhood when the going has gotten tough (long story). There are the groups that have come and gone, and come back and gone again. There are the alcohol poisonings. There are the tasteless and crass parties. Some of it reminds me of when I was in college. That's not really a good thing. In all, it is hard to embrace the Greek culture from where I sit. It is difficult, too, to see the value added to the University. This is not just a Trinity issue, I might add.

But then again, there are times when it is abundantly clear that Greek life is something that is absolutely crucial to the students who join in, and thus to the University. Bid day is one such example. Current members assemble by the Miller Fountain on campus and as new members learn of their inclusion in the club, they joyously run up the hill from their dorm rooms to meet with their new mates. It is impossible to see bid day and not be caught up in the excitement of it. See the videos posted below to see firsthand what it was like this year (February 6, 2009). See the bottom of the Blog for a full slide show (click on the image to enlarge and play as a slide show). I should note that when I went out to see the frivolity, it was merely to take one picture for the parent newsletter. I got swept up in the excitement though (obviously) and kept on clicking.

Unlike years past, bid day has grown to be a non-alcoholic event (as far as I know). The students are extremely well-behaved and spirited, and don't seem to mind the intrusive lens of the Dean. Also unlike years past, I have less of a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that new members will go out that night and be hazed. Maybe I am naive. Maybe I am just hopeful. Maybe times are changing.

It has been a long transition, but today's Greeks at Trinity have been better educated about hazing, about risk management, and about safety for all members. This has not been easy and has come with the hard work from the likes of Pete Neville, Marcella Leung, Becky Spurlock, Katie Jundt, and Josh Beebe. And it has taken open-mindedness from some Greek leaders to see that changes were needed. Getting the general membership on board has not always been easy.

At the alumni dinner on Friday night a former Chi Beta received the Distinguished Alumni Award. Even there, the value of Greek life was apparent, as a group of Betas-past were at a table to support their former sorority sister.

So what does Greek life at Trinity really offer? Is it the lifelong friendships, the community service, the allegiance to the University among alumni, and the excitement of shared experiences? Or is it the parties, the problems, the risks, and some adversity between students and faculty/staff/and other students?

It is probably a bit of both. And one thoughtless or careless act can reverse any positive feelings in a hurry. But last Friday anyways... the pictures don't lie: It all seemed pretty good.

You Tube links:
Bid Day Excitement One
Bid Day Excitement Two

Friday, February 6, 2009

It's Miller's Time

Miller Hall will be renovated during the summer of 2009 and will be ready for new students when they arrive on campus in August. This building and Calvert Hall are the two oldest buildings on campus that have not undergone recent renovations. While popular buildings for students because of their location and prominent setting in the first year student "quad," the structures are in need of updating.

Calvert Hall is tentatively slated to be re-done in the summer of 2010. Miller received the nod this year because it is a smaller building and the project will give the contractors a chance to deal with any unforeseen issues that are typical in a renovation. Because the 15-week renovation schedule is extremely tight, tackling the smaller building first makes sense. When Calvert is also done in a similarly tight window the construction crews will have a sense of what they are dealing with having just done Miller the previous year. Herndon and Beze Halls underwent a similar two-year renovation plan in 2005 and 2006.

The renovation will be extensive. The building will be gutted, leaving only the foundation, floors, roof, HVAC units, and stairwell. Witnesses will actually be able to see through the building -- as all of the north and south walls will be removed and replaced. The south facing walls will no longer have windows, but rather solid walls. The north facing walls (above) will be renovated to feature private balconies ala Winn and Witt. When originally constructed, Miller had no air conditioning. The double-sided window construction allowed for cross-ventilation. This is no longer needed since the building now has heating and cooling.

Tentatively the building will have movable room furniture, additional outlets, walk-in closets, a fire sprinkler system, granite counter tops, stall doors (currently there are none in Calvert and Miller), a central laundry room, small study spaces, and an elevator. The LEEDS certified project will be a non-smoking building and won't feature the ceiling fans installed in the recent Thomas and Lightner renovations, because of the low ceilings. The first floor will have ceramic tile as an experiment to consider in future renovations while the second and third floors will be carpeted with carpet tiles.

Ideally, the Calvert project will be funded for the following year.