beautiful finish / good to be chair
passing of the boomerang to my terrific new boss.
A chair's day is always full of surprises, but today's was especially welcome: when I opened my office door this morning, there was an actual finish line blocking my path. I've run more than 25 marathons, but (unlike certain Minnesota graduate students) I've never actually broken the tape. The tape is rumored to exist, but it must get trampled long before I enter the chute with the other slow-moving cattle. While I wouldn't disturb this finish line until I'd gotten a picture, I immediately draped the accompanying race medal (below) around my neck.
I've avoided airing department laundry in this space, but I'm sharing the message and pictures in hopes that the finish line image might hearten a current chair or two. I've loved my time as department chair, but there's nothing more beautiful than the sight of a finish line.
Friends and colleagues,
The College recently moved the official chair transition date from July 1 to June 18, so my two terms as chair are wrapping up this weekend. We are incredibly fortunate to have a colleague as accomplished, principled, and purposeful as Liz Boyle taking the reins Monday morning. Liz is a remarkable leader and she has assembled an outstanding team. She follows in the tradition of Ron Aminzade, Candace Kruttschnitt, and Dave Knoke -- all brilliant scholars who took time from their research and teaching to serve the department as chair. Before leaving office, I wanted to send a quick public thanks to the scholarly community that has been so supportive and accomplished over the past six years. In keeping with my research interests, I’ve also been tempted to grant a few pardons (e.g., for befouling the microwave or hoarding Teaching Resources Center materials), but I’m still a bit cautious about overstepping my authority.
Visitors often help chairs see their departments in new ways. This spring, a publisher told me he saw Minnesota as “the model post-culture wars, post-methods wars sociology department for the next century.” I cannot imagine a better, or more fitting, compliment and aspiration. A couple years back, another Big-10 chair wrote, “The dean told me that as our department thinks about rebuilding, we should envision our dream department, and for me, that dream department is Minnesota…I’d love to pick your brain.” And, in our external review a few years before that, we were called a “top-tier department with a fine record of research productivity, a vibrant intellectual community, and an impressive record of service … well-positioned to become one of the leading departments in the nation.” We fared less well in the 2005 NRC sociology rankings, due in part to the NRC’s curious minimization of publications in book form, but we’ve consistently been strong in other evaluations, ranking among the nation’s top 20 graduate sociology departments. More importantly, whenever Minnesota graduate students hit the road to give talks, we almost always hear that their creativity, vision, knowledge, and passion “blew away” the audience in the host department.
While the great recession and associated budget dramas certainly presented their challenges, they also revealed the strength of our scholarly community. We successfully resisted staff cutbacks, we supported our graduate students as they entered an uncertain job market, and we retained our truly distinctive and mutually supportive department culture. My favorite indicator of the latter comes from watching how we celebrate the success of our colleagues or fellow students. Even under conditions of scarcity, Minnesota has had far fewer of the petty jealousies and resentments that have hamstrung other programs.
I only have faint memories of faculty life Before Chair, but the happiest involve geeking out with our brilliant students. I’m now comfortably ensconced in my old 11th-floor faculty office -- within easy geeking distance of several advisees. I owe a special debt to these students for their patience as I’ve bumped their appointments for closed-door department matters the past six years. I also owe a big honking debt for the heroic efforts of those on the department’s administrative and leadership teams. I won’t name names, but their behind-the-scenes counsel provided a much-needed corrective to my own energies and impulses – with the best possible impact for the department. But every graduate student and member of our staff and faculty has made some extraordinary contribution to our collective well-being over the past six years. I have been honored to share so closely in your efforts and I offer my sincere thanks for your support during my time as chair.