Carolina on My Mind: July 2010
"How I Spent My Summer Vacation"
(Not Mel Gibson, Not The Bouncing Souls, Not Your Worst Essay Assignment)By Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
As you may know, there’s a new Mel Gibson film on the way called “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” which is also (as you also might know, being a very with-it group) the title of a punk-rock album by The Bouncing Souls, and also (as we all know) the title of thousands of speeches and essays required of students on returning to school in the fall. And it is also a question that many students, parents, and faculty ask me every year. So, since inquiring minds want to know, I’ll just go ahead and disclose right here what I’ll be doing with my summer. ("Entertainment Tonight" won’t have this information for weeks.)
One of the joys of serving as a professor and a dean is the sense of renewal and possibility that occurs as we begin the summer. As the dean of the largest undergraduate and graduate college at the University of South Carolina, I begin the summer by congratulating thousands of graduates, shaking thousands of hands. The graduates’ sense of accomplishment coupled with the delight of their family and friends stays with me throughout the summer. Graduation is barely over when we begin summer school. Many continuing students remain in the summer to take the courses the college offers. Indeed, I plan the summer course schedule to help our students to progress in their majors. But continuing your education is not limited to staying on campus, as innovative courses are also offered off-campus. Students have the chance to study marine life at the beautiful Belle W. Baruch Institute in Georgetown, or follow the Silk Road through China, or practice their Arabic in Morocco, or trace the fall of the former Soviet Union by visiting the major cities of Hungary, Poland and Russia.
The summer is also when I have the chance to meet the new students joining us in the fall. Every year for the past six years I have been dean, I am pleased to say that more and more students consider the university the “destination of choice.” We often do not know, however, the exact number of students who will attend the university until the end of summer. This fact complicates planning for the fall. Today, students apply to more than one college. The final decision on a college for some number of students doesn’t occur until late in the summer, just a few days before the beginning of the fall semester. So my team and I have to be agile and resourceful, ready to deal with the wonderful problem of adding classes, hiring more faculty, and advising more students as they begin this phase of their lives. The college is the gateway for all undergraduate students to the university. In addition to serving students new to our college, it is my responsibility to make sure there are enough places for nursing students who need biology, international business majors who need language courses, and engineering students who need physics. I often say that my job is predicting what 18 year olds will do, and that is indeed more often an art than a science.
The summer is also the time when we measure how well we are doing in approximately our 100 academic degree programs. My team and I review each program assessment to ensure that the college is meeting its goals for student learning, and this information feeds into our budget process. Alas, no summer is complete without a numbing amount of attention and analysis of financial data and budget spreadsheets. The budget for 2010-2011 has been set. My team and I are now hard at work on next year’s budget. We will spend the summer developing strategies to address the hopes and aspirations of our faculty and students for 2011-2012. As we all realize, resources are limited and not all dreams can be fulfilled.
As a transplant from the cooler Midwest, I am often asked how do I find the summer heat in the "famously hot" Midlands. I reply that I haven’t noticed the heat as I spend my summer in an air-conditioned office. While not too hot, my summer is less structured. There are fewer scheduled meetings. Evening and weekend College events and activities are not as frequent. There is more time for analysis and reflection and for spending time with my family and friends. For watching movies, listening to music (have you heard The Bouncing Souls’ latest?), and getting ready for all those returning and beginning Gamecocks, who will bring their summer experiences along with them in the fall.