CURRENT ARTICLE • May 23rd interruptions

Nibbled to Death by Ducks


“Nibbled to death by ducks.” The phrase, though nearly three centuries old, is still remarkably apt for the role of the department chair today. Our jobs are filled with little nibbles taken out of our time and attention; no individual nibble may be all that significant, but the accumulation of nibbles can lead to exasperation, frustration, and burnout. In order to manage the nibbling, I have found a humorous way to highlight all those little bites out of my time, which has helped me cope with the interruptions as well as train my faculty to be more conscious of how often they come to me for help.


colleagues May 21

When Colleagues Are Brats


Have you ever left a meeting in which you were trying to work with some colleagues on aligning the curriculum for a course that several of you teach, and decided that the best (printable) word to describe a colleague was “brat?” Does it seem like there is someone in your work environment who has a chronically poor attitude?

academic programs May 16

Weight Management for Universities: Evaluating Academic Bloat


Historically, new academic programs have often been introduced by several mechanisms. An energetic faculty member is inspired to create a new major, a donor bequest stipulates the development of an interdisciplinary institute, a president mandates a “visionary” curriculum, or a dean or provost responds to a sudden market opportunity.

development May 14

“But I Hate Asking for Money”: Development Tips for Academic Administrators


Despite the widespread expectation that academic leaders participate in fundraising at their institutions, many administrators feel poorly prepared for development work. After all, they rose to their positions because of their success as teachers and scholars, their record of good management skills, and their ability to mix attention to details with an appreciation for the “big picture” of an institution’s needs. Is there any way, then, to make this activity less unpalatable for people who don’t enjoy development activities? What do you need to know about fundraising if the idea of asking people for money makes you nervous or uncomfortable?

capstone course May 7

Can a Capstone Course Try to Accomplish Too Much?


Kristi Upson-Saia thinks it can, and she has data from one field that supports her belief. When her religious studies department (at Occidental College) decided to reassess its capstone course, Upson-Saia looked for relevant publications in her field. Finding few, she began collecting data from other religious studies departments. She asked those departments to explain their course objectives and share capstone materials such as guidelines, checklists, websites, and syllabi. Her analysis of religious study capstones includes data from 29 different programs, and what she found is typical of the descriptive analysis of capstones completed in several other fields. The courses have different objectives, they address content in different ways, and students complete a variety of assignments, although most involve the application of research skills used in the field.

commencement speech May 4

My Last Commencement Speech


In 2007, professor Randy Pausch presented what he titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” in the “My Last Lecture” series at his university, Carnegie Mellon. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer only a month earlier and had only a few more months to live. With amazing optimism and energy, he gave this lecture to focus on what had been most important in his life: his dreams and his satisfying hard work. He wanted to inform and inspire his students and colleagues so they too would continue to dream and work to find joy in life. His inspirational message led many colleges and universities to establish “My Last Lecture” series to give faculty opportunities to follow Pausch’s example and develop a lecture that summed up the best of their academic careers and the most important things they had learned about life.

guns on college campuses May 2

Guns on College Campuses – Not A Good Idea!


It is hard to believe that the Columbine High School shooting was 19 years ago. The actions of the two suburban Colorado high school seniors who went on a shooting spree killing 13 people and wounding over 20 others before taking their own lives should have been a clarion call for common sense gun control. Sadly, the nation would hear the same refrain in 2012 in the bucolic Connecticut town of Newtown at the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, where the 20-year-old gunman shot and killed 20 six- and seven-year-old children and six adult staff members before killing himself.