(The Transition and My Remarks)
I have not posted a story since March, and since then I have made eight trips. I will get busy in posting these, but first an explanation. For more than one year, I have been thinking about my departure as dean. After 17 years in this position, it was time to travel on and get busy with other interests – more writing. As the early part of 2019 unfolded, I became busier with dean stuff along with planning for the transition in leadership for our college. Thus, I did not post any stories about my travel.
My last day as dean has come and gone, and I am now focusing on my new work as a writer. I have stories that I believe need to be shared, and I have already begun.
I will continue to post stories about my travels, first focusing on the backlog of trips noted above. I will continue to be The Traveling Dean, except that my real title will soon be The Traveling Dean Emeritus.
As part of my transition, I have written two additional pieces. The first was penned August 18 and 19, on my last day as dean/first day as non-dean. The second is a written version of the remarks that I made on August 22, at a reception celebrating my deanship. I am posting these documents here.
Please continue to follow me here at The Traveling Dean. In addition, over the next several weeks I will begin posting non-travel stories on other forms of social media. Watch for links to those.
Thank you for reading my stuff.
August 18, 2019
It’s Sunday, August 18, at 6:45 pm. In less than six hours I will no longer be the dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. At midnight tonight, I will become the former dean, although with regent approval at the end of the month I will assume the title dean emeritus. While I will continue to use the blog name the traveling dean, I will in fact be the traveling dean emeritus.
If you are still reading, you might be asking what in the world does dean emeritus mean. The word emeritus is Latin, you knew that, and once referred to a veteran soldier. My time as dean did not involve soldiering, but I can report that as dean I have been involved in a few dust-ups. Current use of the word emeritus has been shifted largely to professors and ministers who have retired and are regarded as having done good work. But, emeritus is also used in the context of those who have retired from other professions. So, dean emeritus is an honorary term, and means at the very least that when I was the dean I did not embarrass my college or university, too much.
Having one’s job end at midnight on a Sunday is weird. I left my office at around 5:15 pm Friday. When I departed I knew that I would not go into the office on Saturday or Sunday, unless there was some kind of emergency (there hasn’t been one thus far). But, technically, I am still the “boss” for another five plus hours. I think that I will stay up until midnight, imagining some silver ball sliding down a pole, at midnight reaching the bottom, with a crash, lights flashing, and the The Rolling Stones playing Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Many faculty, staff and students will cheer, drink, dance, party and stay up all night in celebration of my departure—and welcome the era of our new dean, even though her title includes the word interim.
I have stayed rather busy this weekend. We hosted friends on Friday night, had dinner for my leadership team Saturday night, and hung out with our grandchildren at the Omaha Zoo today. While petting sting rays (yes, you read that right) and looking at the back-side of a rhinoceros, I found my mind wandering backwards to events, situations and people I have encountered over the last 17 years, the length of time I have served as dean. I have seen a great deal in those 17 years, and even had a “first” for me on my last day in the office. I intend to write about some of what I have seen, but not yet. There are other stories I want to write about first.
Some of you are familiar with the term “when the switch flips.” No, this is not about turning on the lights, but the metaphor of the light switch is useful. The only exception to the metaphor real life connection is that in the context I am writing the light is on, then off, never to go back on. In situations like mine when a person is leaving a position, one that involved an all-in mindset, it is important to match as closely as possible switch flipping with job departure. If the switch is flipped too early, then the person’s ability to perform well is compromised because they just don’t care much anymore; think Phil Collins’ song I Don’t Care Anymore. If the switch is flipped too late, then the person leaving the job will have second thoughts about their departure.
I tried hard to time my switch flip well. But, I’ve also had the experience where the switch was flipped mostly outside the control of the switch flipper. Think about the times when you woke up one morning and said to yourself, “I am not doing that anymore,” and you didn’t do it anymore. You probably had some sense that you were heading toward that decision prior to the switch flip, but you did not know that you would make the decision that quickly. And, sometimes the switch flipping gets all over you so fast, and you did not see it coming. Maybe a high school girlfriend or boyfriend was on the other end of that switch flipping. You woke up one morning and thought “I’m done.” No more drama. And, I didn’t like her hair anyway. Or, you were on the other end. She woke up one morning and thought, “Yuck, what did I see in that guy.” She didn’t like the way you dressed anyway.
I think I timed it pretty well. Even in the last days, I was still excited by the prospects for our college. I was engaged in every one of the meetings I attended even though I now have a true loathing of virtually any kind of meeting that involves more than five or six people.
When I left the office on Friday, I was not certain that my switch had flipped. I knew I was feeling good the last two months about my decision to leave, and I had been accused by a few friends and colleagues of smiling too much. I was also limiting my Saturday and Sunday time in my university office. Nevertheless, I did not know for sure, until Saturday night. There was a situation that unfolded near the end of our dinner party. One of my colleagues told our soon-to-be interim dean that he had something of import to tell her. In the “old” days, he would have addressed me in that way. As they found their way to another room to discuss the issue, I realized that while I care for my college greatly, I was happy that I was not going to be part of that conversation. I did not want to know what he was going to tell her.
A few friends have asked me about what I will miss most about being our college’s dean. I have tried not to be an ass in my responses. So, no retorts such as “the people” or I won’t miss anything at all. If someone tells you they will miss the people, they are either lying or need to explain in some detail what they mean by the people. In positions like mine, you are around a lot of people. Most are nice, some are truly outstanding, and a few (a number greater than zero) are disgusting. I won’t miss any in the latter group, and I won’t be saddened if I don’t see the folks in the former group every day.
I will miss working for our students, although I will be able to do some of that for a while longer. There’s nothing like the buzz one gets in having a student succeed, especially if they have had challenges along the way. I have lived vicariously through the lives of our students (and alums) over many years, and I will miss having a direct pipeline to stories of their successes. I feel the same way about most of our faculty. As dean, I am the last stop in the college for annual review documents and tenure and promotion decisions. I read all of their reports at least once a year. Overall, our faculty are terrific, and I have enjoyed monitoring their progress. I’ve rejoiced in their publications and their success in the classroom. I love the reports of a “big hit,” a publication acceptance in a first-rate academic journal.
I will also miss the planning, conceptualization and realization of major ideas and initiatives. Particularly rewarding are the big accomplishments of our college when significant people had told me, “You’ll never be able to do that.” For me, that statement is a challenge, another reason to work smart and drive the car full throttle.
It’s now Monday, 7:30 am. I woke up and am now the former dean. The sun came up as well, and it looks to be a fine day. I now have the time to write short riffs like this one, but also plan for the bigger projects that I have already started. I also have some blog posts to write. There have been eight trips since I last posted—about the flood and my non-trip to Florida.
I have other big decisions to make today. When will I go bike riding? What will I eat for lunch? Should we go out on our boat today? Should I shave? What do I need to do before we leave for New York next week? I think it really will be a fine day.
My Remarks – August 22, 2019
Embracing the Impostor in All of Us
Thanks to all of you for being here on a warm August afternoon, and just a few days before the start of a new semester. You could be somewhere else, sipping a toddy. And yes, that is my playlist.
I’d like to start with an explanation, the reasons why I refer to all of this as a repurposing, not retirement. If you check out the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary (I am sure that this is regular reading for all of you) and locate the definition of retirement you will find, “the point at which someone stops working because of having reached a particular age or ill health”. Well, I did hit a particular age, 70, but so what? And, my health is very good (and, my people live a long time). So, let me give you another quote, this time from C.S. Lewis, “You are never too old to set another goal, or dream a new dream”. I have another goal and several new dreams. Finally, one more quote, this time from Stephen King in his book Shawshank Redemption. Remember when Red, played by Morgan Freeman in the movie, first says “Get busy living or get busy dying?”
When I first came here 35 years ago, I quickly developed the chronic condition that perhaps a few of you have experienced, impostor syndrome. Prior to my arrival, I had been a demographer tenured in a sociology department at Memphis State University. My new job called for me to be a demographer and a marketer, with no additional formal education. I had a great department chair (David Ambrose), dean (Larry Trussell) and colleagues (John Hafer and Bun Song Lee) who at least thought they understood what I could and could not do on day one (marketing research, consumer behavior, and a new course I was developing, business demography plus publish). I told them to just give me a bit of time and I would be full tilt, ready to teach other courses. They believed me. I had already begun to shift my research and had some success. I still felt like an impostor.
Then there was my adventure in Florida. Many of you know that I left UNO in 1988, with no intention to return to Omaha. Once again, some business school hired some demographer who dressed up like a marketer. Like UNO CBA, they’d lost their minds. The dean of the Crummer Graduate School of Business, Marty Shatz, hired an impostor.
Then it was back here to UNO. The impostor had returned. Ambrose and Trussell had not learned their lesson. But, this time around I felt less the part, and for the next decade the demographer and the marketer found their rhythm.
But, I must have missed that impostor feeling, because in 2000, somehow, I fell into the administrative abyss, and I was now the associate dean. Stan Hille had hired an impostor.
Then I became interim dean in 2003 and the dean without interim a few months later—that’s like impostor squared.
But, I am pleased to report that after 17 years as the dean of our college I no longer think of myself of having been an impostor. So, I leave you while I am looking for the next place where I will be uncomfortable and out of my element, a place that is new, unpredictable, and full of adventure. A place where I can be an impostor again.
Let me change gears…I have been very lucky. We have a great collection of smart-working students, who in many instances, post-graduation, have become the business, non-profit, and government leaders in Omaha and beyond. We have a dedicated and smart-working faculty and staff. You don’t just have good ideas. You have the confidence and grit to see those ideas to the end and beyond. Look at our programs, our centers, our departments, and you will find people who really care and are on the edge in finding better ways to prepare our students and our business clients. And, you are engaged in first rate research, the kind of work that makes a difference. Then there is our business community. You love our students, and the rest of us, well most of us, as well. You make it possible for us to extend our classrooms and make learning a 16-hour-a-day phenomenon, something that happens all over our city, Omaha. And, of course there’s Carl and Joyce Mammel. Along with Bill and Ruth Scott they made this place possible. We are so much different and so much better because of this facility. Watch out, our addition will be complete in 15 months, and we will again make another leap ahead.
I cannot thank all of you by name for your support and guidance because that would simply take too long. Over the next several months, I will reach out to many of you with a more personal thank you. But, without our dean’s office and affiliated staff, including our great partners at the NU Foundation, I would have been lost if you had not been there. Our leadership team is first-rate. You have made good decisions and have advised me well. Our information technology staff is brilliant. We have in place systems that no one else in the NU system has, and only a limited number of business schools nationwide have been able to replicate. Students, we are here for you. I have lived through your lives, sharing in both your achievements and disappointments. Faculty and staff, you’re the best. Administrators come and go, students come and go, and now another dean has bitten the dust. But you are still here. You are the backbone of our college, the source of great ideas (did I mention that some of you can be a pain in the ass?). But seriously, you have made us an excellent business school. My advisory board, you were patient with a new dean, and did not run for the door when you learned about some of my ideas (well, one of you did run for the door). Your advice and counsel helped me get better. Alumni, without your successes we would not have an excellent business college. We are only as good as our graduates. And, thank you also for letting me live vicariously through your successes. To my fellow deans and other administrators, thanks for your friendship, support, and partnerships. We’ve seen a lot and done a lot, together. And to my family, Janet and Peter. So, you’ve had to live with the demographer/marketer/statistician the entire time and put up with the moves as well as the dude’s wacky behavior. You’ve always been there even when a decision or a move did not make sense.
Unfortunately, at least for some of you, I will still be around here for a few more years. After a year leave, I will return to the Marketing and Entrepreneurship department on a half-time basis.
I’ve taken a bit too long, but I wanted to say these things in front of all of you. Let’s continue with the reception. I think I hear Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb.