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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.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Reading Daze...

Each year, those of us on the calendar committee determine and confirm the tentative University schedule for the subsequent five years. These decisions involve assessing the proximity of December graduation to Christmas, looking at the best place to start the spring, and making sure the local school system spring breaks match ours (we do actually do this).

Additionally, we schedule the two important reading days for students to have, ostensibly, to prepare for their final exams. In the fall and the spring, these days are often before or after a weekend, essentially giving students four consecutive days to study and possibly start packing up some of the items in their dorm rooms. So, many do what any self-respecting 18-22 year-old college student would do. They head to the beach with their friends.
A reading day tradition:
Midnight Breakfast.

Yes, organizations and individuals get away and blow off steam and celebrate the end of the semester. The work-hard, play-hard balance requires it. Students deserve to pamper themselves a bit with sun, sand, and suds. Those who don't, often use the time to sleep. (And of course, I know: Many of our students do use the time - or some of it - to study for finals.)

I don't have an issue with this per se. It does seem odd that we call these reading days. When I was in college I believe I used my "reading days" to do all of the social things I described above. I am in a glass house. My glass house was in Wisconsin and the Lake Michigan beach was less alluring than the Gulf of Mexico.But I played hard anyways.

In the last decade or two - I have lost track - some schools decided that a way to broadly curb alcohol abuse and the detrimental effects (such as people hurting themselves and each other or flunking out) during the year was to make sure there were early morning classes on Thursday and Friday. I think we have those anyways, so that was never a strategy by this institution. The idea, however, is for schools to socially un-engineer some things and not enable student bad behavior. Many of us in college administration spend great energy on trying to figure out ways to protect students from themselves. The students are winning, by the way.

What if we applied similar strategies, though, to reading days? We could, say, consistently schedule reading days alternatively, such as on a Tuesday and Thursday. This would not extend the calendar, simply alter where the reading days fall. From an academic preparation standpoint, this makes sense. It spreads out exams, so that they don't cluster so close together on back-to-back days. Students would probably make better use of their study time once they are in an academic groove, versus stopping class, wasting time, and then starting exams.I presume there could be similar advantages for the faculty.

I suppose schedule changing could just be seen as a way to stop students from having fun. Perhaps subconsciously, as a university official, and as a parent of college students, I wonder why I would support student four-day mini-vacays. I am working, in part (and in both my staff/parent roles), for them to grow, develop, learn, and mature. I'm not sure how "them" having all the fun meshes with any of that. (What's next for me: I start yelling at neighborhood kids to get off my lawn?)

In an age when college costs are significant, and when institutions are seen as refuges for the privileged, does this scheduling windfall for students make sense any more? Or does it reinforce negative stereotypes? Didn't students just have spring break? It might be time to at least start a dialogue on this topic in the calendar committee. I wonder how others feel (and I bet students and parents don't agree). Weigh in on the poll, upper-right and let's see. Or send in your comments.

In truth, reading days are among my favorite of the year. I have few meetings and the campus is quiet so I can get a lot of work done. And maybe I can even pull up some articles on college student development I have been saving. For me, and many of my colleagues, it can be a perfect time. For reading.