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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Laurie's Head

I don't know that I can play this straight. No one else has seemed able to. My first experience with Laurie's head was seeing Marc Raney, former VP for Advancement, carrying it in the elevator en route to the Northrup fourth floor supply room last spring. It was a bit shocking, seeing Marc with a head -- in addition to his own -- bigger than most, and with what appeared to be some slight damage. It was shocking too, apparently, for secretaries who went looking for office supplies only to come face-to-head with the University legend.

In a ceremony on September 13, 2010, Laurie's head (a plaster sculpted head - not a bust - of former TU President James Laurie) was presented by its artist, Phil Evett, and installed in Laurie Auditorium. Evett, a former TU art professor, looking out over the graying and balding crowd noted that for awhile he actually thought he might have died. What probably should have been a somber and formal ritual seemed to turn into a series of head jokes worthy of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The Trinity old-timers, it turns out, are just like us. Current President, Dennis Ahlburg actually set the tone, announcing first that Dr. Laurie built the campus and while the Ahlburg legacy is to renovate it.

President Laurie retired in 1970 and died later that same year after being stricken with hepatitis. At Laurie's retirement ceremony in May of 1970, Andrew Cowles announced that the new auditorium on campus would bear Laurie's name. At that same ceremony, professor Frances Swinney thanked Dorothy Laurie, who by all accounts was universally revered, for her grace as a "respecter of life and love." The same Frances Swinney had a front row seat at the September ceremony this year. (I actually met this hip, charming, and witty lady at a function this fall.) Reverend Raymond Judd, who presided at Dr. Laurie's funeral, was also back and offered an invocation at the ceremony. Dr. Laurie was beloved as a remarkable, giving, warm, and principled man. Raymond Judd came to trinity as a student when Dr. Laurie arrived as President.

The ceremony led me back to the Doug Brackenridge history tome of Trinity. In it, he details the Laurie years, which saw Trinity move to the current location, often referenced as the "miracle on the hill." Current professor and former Dean of Students Coleen Grissom confirms that Dr. Laurie had the presence and vision that made him a pivotal institutional figure. He hired her back to Trinity after she initially left. That should be enough proof of his judgment. He knew all employees by name before his first day on the job. He would spend money the University didn't have to build the campus we have today. At his retirement a speaker noted that he "always insisted that Trinity live within its means, even if it had to borrow money to do it."

This was one of the best University events that I never looked forward to. The artist went on to discuss how, in the initial stages of this secret commission, he would stealthily stalk President Laurie at various events to get the right perspective for his piece. When the widow of President Laurie was first being shown the auditorium that would posthumously bear his name, she actually unexpectedly turned a corner to be faced with the stunning head of her late husband. No one noted the irony James "Woodin" Laurie was immortalized by plastic. The unique style actually does give the appearance of an incomplete sculpture, which makes it more art and less figurine.

Laurie's head sat in the studio of Professor of Phil Evett until a retired professor, Frank Kersnowski, worked with Trustee Jim Dicke (art expert - see Dicke Art Building) to have the head displayed in Laurie Auditorium. It went from studio, to supply room, to where it sits now, in the Laurie Auditorium lobby.

This has created for me a rush of nostalgia for a time I didn't even experience. The ceremony, with all of these elderly University relics, was spirited, funny, warm, and personal. Dr. Evett said he would replay the day in his thoughts in the months ahead because its meaning and being back on campus with his old colleagues and memories. The day was an incredible reminder of the vibrant life of a past so often dulled by black and white photos and historical footnotes. It could not have been a better tribute to a man, a head, and mostly, a heart that still beats strong today.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Counter InTUitive 9.10.10

This is a regular feature to examine the information in the weekly Trinitonian editorial. I love the Trinitonian and the students who run it. Sometimes, however there are more nuances to the issue than they have space for. Besides, electronic media allows for there to be "watchdog" watchdogs. Editorials are rated by "hits," as in blog hits, with one being worst and 5 being best. If they are published on-line I will provide links.

Since this is the first Trinitonian review of the semester, I will offer some broader feedback. Overall this issue features great quality regarding depth, writing, reporting, professionalism, and appearance.

On the University screening student e-mails:
Not only can we not technically or legally read student e-mail, we have no interest. Most of us don't have time to read our own e-mails, let alone get into a raunchy student exchange about the Iliad. Mainly though, we just don't think you are that interesting (no offense).

RIP Cobb-Racy
Regarding a small building being torn down as part of science facility renovation:
It might help for people to know that SLH stands for Science Lecture Hall. SLH was mainly the term for the 60's era terraced classroom. Oh, and you owe Dr. Blyston an "e."

Professor Play list:
Speaks for itself. Great feature.

Hot water story and editorial
Regarding the lack of hot water over Labor Day weekend
So, I only learned of the water softener angle by reading the Trinitonian. Despite having measures in place to manage things like hot water outages the University response was rife with miscommunication, late communication, and errors. We will do better next time. In our defense, some of these things unfold over time in unpredictable ways. The long weekend, the rain, and narrowing down the problem all compounded things. I am not making any excuses... Just kidding, I am. Our bad. (Note to students: next time you stage a protest do it when we are around. It looked fun though.)

4 blog hits

ASR (student government) Student Activity fee
Coverage on the initiative by ASR to propose a fee increase
Good story and editorial. Equally thrilled and bummed that a former blog post of mine was used against ASR. We ARE over-programmed AND under-funded. Those things are not mutually exclusive. Well-considered editorial, but there is more to this in terms of student groups wanting funding. That's not ASR's fault. But at least people aren't criticizing ASR for inaction. This is more like it!

4 blog hits

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Interim Steps

In the role of interim VP for Student Affairs I identified several major goals for the year ahead, dating back to February. Serving in this role offers an opportunity to address some things that are stuck in my craw and that will hopefully reduce some ongoing friction points with students. The big three, in no particular order, are as follows:

Dining Services
ARAMARK will be presenting some preliminary findings to student government next Monday from the Market View study they have been conducting over the past several months. The preliminary recommendations should be well-received by students, faculty, staff, and the administration. The next step will be to study the costs of the recommendations and then roll them out to the students and University community this fall. Some changes could be made as soon as early spring. I am very excited about the opportunities for an extreme makeover to our dining program.

Greek Life
Next week a consultant will meet with fraternities and sororities as a community and then individually to look at our overall program and individual club orientation programs and values. This is on the heels of the roll-out of the new Greek Alumni Advisory Board and the new alumni advising system that is being put into place. In addition, and related to the consulting, we will convene a group that can help us develop ways for groups to socialize off campus in as safe a manner as possible. This is also exciting as it appears that administrators (particularly me), students, and alumni are all ready for a less adversarial relationship. We need the alumni involvement in this and they are thrilled to be involved.

Residency Requirement
At the Board of Trustee meeting late next week we will take a little time to discuss the three-year residency requirement. Why do we have it? Is it still relevant? Does it hurt more than it helps? Does it make students feel controlled? Do our facilities support the requirement? I have ideas, but the trustees certainly do too. Ideas from this discussion will be helpful as the full university-wide strategic planning process unfolds this year.

Student Affairs is still engaged in year three of its own five-year strategic plan, is looking at weekend campus programming options, hoping to revive the Tigers' Den (related to ARAMARK plan), developing leadership programs and a men's conference, building a sexual assault survivor ally program, and is focusing on social media as a way to connect with students and other constituents. Expanding or redefining Career Services will certainly be discussed in the broad strategic planning efforts of the University. Look for updates on these issues and others in Student Affairs as the semester moves forward.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

By the Numbers, and the Book

There has to be a better way to count people. Grant it, we didn't trek to Bethlehem on a donkey, but couldn't we use satellite imaging or something? I was confused by the whole process of counting students, but we must have done well, because we received a certificate for our good work, (See photo below.) Our good work involved hanging posters in the dorms and letting census workers sit in the Coates Center lobby. I think I should get a certificate for working with Louise (above, left) every month.

Louise works for the census bureau and her job is to do a monthly count of residents in a specific dorm and interview ten of them. This month it is Susanna Hall. She deserves a certificate too. She doesn't just sit at a table and I doubt there is a better census taker in the nation. Let me lay out the evidence.

Louise is a rule follower. Despite the fact that she has met me monthly for about two years, she never strays from her script: "Hello, I'm Louise and I am taking a census of Susanna Hall." Yes, Louise, I know you. Then she shows me the card that lists six options for the type of facility we are discussing and I identify that it is, in fact, a college residence hall, just as it was 16 months ago. Louise takes no shortcuts as she hands me the census brochure that I immediately recycle. I then complete and sign the confidentiality agreement that is required annually but makes her feel better to have monthly, because she is a rule follower. (I don't know if the agreement covers blogging.) This is followed by her explanation that her supervisor may contact me to evaluate her performance. I wish he would. Louise would get an A+.

Louise holds people accountable. She described to me, in great detail, her experience with the census worker who came to Louise's door. That woman never had a chance. She was not a rule follower and Louise made her re-do the interview following the script. I am more of a spirit of the law than a letter of the law person, despite being in charge of student conduct. I would have failed as a census worker.

Louise is my third census worker. Shedrick and Diana were my first two. Shedrick resurfaces once in awhile. I was his first client and he was nervous, so I tried to be really nice and helpful and just kind of got attached to him. As time passed he became uber-confident and started showing up wearing bling and alligator-skin cowboy boots. I like to think I played a confidence-boosting role in that new swagger.

The census people have to interview ten students a month and ask them questions that are illogical to ask college students. I could have delegated this long ago, but instead, I e-mail the students and tell them to be nice to these people and cooperate. The students assume I am a rule follower and want to comply.

I regularly receive articles in the mail cut out from the local paper that contain Trinity references. These come from Louise. She likes to add a personal touch to her work. She doesn't own a computer and I suppose doesn't know that I see these articles on-line and also read the paper. I don't care. I think it is sweet that she clips articles and mails them. Who does that? Not every census worker, I assure you.

So, I will recycle my certificate for my good work in 2010. It doesn't mean much to me. The clippings - those I will save. I will also print this post and mail it to Louise. But no matter how you count it... we won't be even.