Looking Ahead with Optimism: The Future of the College
HG: The four academic years of your deanship have been eventful, to say the least. How has your experience here influenced your vision for the college’s future?
BB: It’s been a challenge, trying to keep moving forward while economic conditions keep pulling us back. It’s been a tough tug-of-war every day. Since we cannot do everything and be everything to everybody, in the short term, some cutbacks are unavoidable.
The way I have framed this is, we are going to have to be like a collection of high-quality boutiques rather than a large general department store. What we have had to do as our resource base has shrunk is to make sure we protect our very best, but we protect our very best at the expense of some things that we used to be able to do but no longer can continue.
These are difficult choices; they do not make people happy. One of the most difficult aspects of the situation is that though everyone realizes that cuts have to be made, no one wants the cuts to affect them. Unfortunately, the cuts are so large that they will affect many traditional activities of the college, and we will have to make our short-term decisions based on long-term priorities.
HG: How would you summarize your vision today?
BB: My vision for the college is still to grow excellence, but the plan for doing it has changed. In trying to lead us through all of this, the key challenges are, first, making budgetary decisions that will generate cost savings within a year and, second, being smart enough in making those decisions that we continue to develop those areas where we have the best chance to excel.
The college is bigger than any single dean, and I hope that during my time as dean we set a positive direction for the college that has staying power. The most important thing about having a vision is not having it but transferring it to others, and if we can persuade our faculty and students to believe in the path of excellence we have set, that will be the most satisfying outcome of all.
HG: At minimum, advancing excellence requires energy and optimism about the future. In the face of dismaying circumstances like worldwide economic recession, emergency budget cuts in response to the state’s reduced revenues, and always-difficult reductions in force, how do you maintain the morale of the college’s faculty, students, and staff as you make the case for growing excellence strategically?
BB: The most important word here is optimism. These are challenging times and we have to tell the faculty, the staff, and our students things they don’t want to hear.
At the same time I am optimistic that the world’s economies will recover, but they will not be the same as they were. Going forward we will need new technologies, and I am also optimistic about how our college will respond.
What we usually find during economic downturns is that a lot of people—many of whom are displaced workers—turn or return to college to enrich their cognitive skills and their flexibility in the intellectual services job market. As the student body changes, I think we are going to see a change in students’ core values. They are going to turn to the arts and sciences, not for vocational training but because they want to enrich their minds, and that is uplifting and motivational for any educator.
I think our faculty as a group is impatient about when we will be able to increase salaries that essentially have been frozen for 2 years. But at the same time, I think that most of our individual faculty members have the same view I do—that being a member of the faculty of a major research university is one of the most satisfying jobs that one can have, even if we are significantly underpaid relative to our peer institutions.
Quite honestly, these days we are all grateful to have employment. And to be able to do something we love during challenging times when our efforts are truly appreciated is something that should buoy us up. The worst thing we can do is to give up and become mired in the malaise arising from the current economic situation. Things will get better. We have to keep focused on the longer view of what the college is going to look like in 20 years: it will look different, but it will be great.